Archive for December, 2009

Sparse shelves greet post-Christmas deal hunters (AP)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

Shoppers headed to America's malls Saturday, many with gift cards in hand, hoping to snag after-Christmas discounts. They were greeted with big markdowns — in some cases topping 75 percent off — but often found limited selection.

"Everything's been picked over," said Donna Brown, a 52-year-old hairdresser from Seaford, Del., as she sorted through what was left of the fleece pajamas marked down 60 percent to $11.99 at a J.C. Penney store in Salisbury, Md.

Crowds were mixed during the kickoff of the week after Christmas, which last year accounted for nearly 15 percent of holiday retail sales.

This year, it could be more important because snowstorms that socked much of the country cut sales by 2.1 percent for the weekend before Christmas compared with the same weekend a year earlier, according to research firm ShopperTrak.

Retailers are counting on the days after Christmas to perk up overall holiday sales in a season that looks like it's been only modestly better than last year's disaster.

This year the calendar provides a full weekend just after Christmas for merchants to try to entice shoppers to ring up more sales before many close out the year.

"Nothing was amazingly stellar," NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen said of the holiday season so far. "This is not going to go down as a Christmas for most people to really remember."

This Saturday, stores made a push to woo gift-card-toting shoppers Saturday by opening early, slashing prices and advertising big sales. "Wasn't under the tree? Get it now at the Apple Store," read one ad from Apple Inc.

Knowing holiday shoppers would likely spend less this year because of high unemployment, a move toward thrift and economic uncertainty, merchants carefully managed inventory for the season, buying less than a year ago when the economic meltdown surprised everyone and forced fire sales to get rid of excess goods.

That meant by Saturday, some store shelves were practically empty.

"There isn't a tremendous amount to buy," Lisa Walters, a consultant with Retail Eye Partners, said as she studied shoppers at a mall in upstate New York.

Sheena Bird bought a flannel coat for $40 — 40 percent off — at Atlanta's Lenox Square Mall. But the waitress said she had no plans for a daylong shopping spree.

"There were a lot of good deals," she said. "But I was selective today, because I just got a bunch of gifts."

Many shoppers hunted for clearance Christmas items like ornaments, decorations and glassware.

Kristie Dobbins, 31, stopped at the Wal-Mart store in Roeland Park, Kan. to buy holiday linens for next year. Along the way, she got a a dog bed for her Alaskan malamute.

"Everything we bought was half off," she said. "So it was worth the wait, and we will be ready for next year."

But others simply couldn't find what they were looking for or left empty-handed, hoping for better deals.

"I was trying to find a dress coat for my husband, but didn't find anything," said Bernaden Demesyeux after more than an hour of shopping at Livingston Mall in Livingston, N.J. "Everything is the same prices as before."

Weather also could complicate things, as a strong snow storm swept across parts of the nation's midsection and rain dampened the mid-Atlantic through New England, threatening to cause flooding. That kept some stores empty earlier in the day.

Walmart was offering half-off toys, and Toys R Us touted buy one, get one half-off offers. At Sears, customers could find coats for 70 percent off. And Gap Inc.'s Old Navy brand was selling men's and women's jeans for $15, and an e-mail encouraged shoppers to "redeem your gift cards today."

Gift card sales are not recorded as merchants' revenues until shoppers redeem them.

But gift card use appeared lighter at some locations Saturday, a potentially troubling sign because gift card redeemers often spend more than the value of the card and often buy goods that aren't on sale.

And returns seemed mixed, too, said Dan Jasper, a spokesman for the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. who said a combination of less selection in stores and tighter budgets led to the change.

"People didn't buy a lot of extraneous stuff," he said.

Still, the full assessment of this year's shopping season won't be known until merchants report December sales Jan. 7. Most expect fourth-quarter profits to be better than last year, because stores weren't forced to dramatically slash prices to liquidate unwanted merchandise.

Most who predict holiday sales have stuck with projections for sales slightly above or slightly below last year's.

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AP Retail Writers Mae Anderson in Atlanta, Michelle Chapman in Livingston, N.J. and Anne D'Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report. Associated Press Writer Heather Hollingsworth contributed from Roeland Park, Kan. Heher reported from Salisbury, Md.

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Simmons Bedding financiers seek Chinese bidder: report (Reuters)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

SINGAPORE (Reuters) –
A group of financiers is trying to put a U.S. mattress maker now under bankruptcy court protection into play by encouraging Chinese bidders to top an already arranged offer for Simmons Bedding Co. (SIMBB.UL), the Wall Street Journal reported late on Saturday.

Success looks unlikely for the eleventh-hour effort to encourage a Chinese bidder to challenge a deal already worked out between Simmons, its creditors and new investors, the report said, quoting sources involved in the effort.

It is the first attempt by the government-linked Chinese financiers behind the Simmons push, as well as the Pennsylvania-based bankruptcy lawyer trying to find similar deals for them, to help Chinese bidders shop for acquisitions in U.S. bankruptcy courts, the newspaper said.

Simmons discounted the move.

"In response to recent rumors ... Simmons wants to reiterate that it is not contemplating any alternate bids in China or elsewhere nor has Simmons authorized any agent in China to solicit any such bids," the report quoted William S. Creekmuir, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Simmons, as saying in a written response to questions.

In November, Simmons, maker of the Beautyrest mattress and other bedding products, filed for bankruptcy protection and said it expects to be sold to two buyers in a transaction valued at roughly $760 million.

The Journal report said details of the pre-packaged reorganization plan, designed to reduce the company's debt $1 billion by more than half, were translated into Chinese and posted on the website of a government-owned registry in the southern city of Guangzhou where large corporate and government assets are put on sale.

The idea was to encourage potential Chinese bidders to offer Simmons creditors a better deal than the one presented to the bankruptcy court, and generate fees for themselves if such a bid were to proceed, the report said, citing people involved.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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Euro zone deficits must be cut from 2011 latest: Trichet (Reuters)

Saturday, December 26th, 2009 | Finance News

BERLIN (Reuters) –
Banks must provide sufficient credit and governments in the euro zone must reign in public finances to support a global economic recovery in 2010, the President of the European Central Bank (EBC) said on Sunday.

In comments made to the Bild am Sonntag weekly newspaper, Jean-Claude Trichet added that recovery from the financial crisis required concerted effort to offset joblessness.

"Banks must perform their central role in the supply of credit to the economy... Handling the consequences of the crisis for the labor market and public finances represents an additional challenge."

"Budget deficits in the euro area must be reduced by 2011 at the latest -- in some countries as early as 2010 -- in order to maintain confidence in public finances," he said.

(Writing by Brian Rohan; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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